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The Oirish Independent Spins Itself Dizzy

The Oirish Independent presents the perfect example of how to spin a story to match a set political agenda. In this case an anti-Irish one.

“Students shun Gaeltacht trips”

Really? Thousands of young Irish people are deliberately turning their backs on the core Irish-speaking communities? “Shun”? Definitely overtones of something bad there. After all convicted criminals and shamed individuals are often “shunned”. What on earth did the peoples of the Gaeltachtaí do?

“THOUSANDS of students are signing up for foreign language courses at home and abroad as trips to the Gaeltacht have been hit by a 15pc fall in numbers.

Fewer than 24,000 children are expected to travel for summer Irish courses this year, down from 28,000 in 2008.

However, agencies running summer courses in French, Spanish and other foreign languages are reporting record numbers.

Official figures from the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht show a continuous decline in the numbers heading for the Gaeltacht in recent years.

Leaving Cert marks for oral and aural Irish have been almost doubled to 45pc of the total exam during that time — increasing the importance of spoken Irish.

But that has failed to halt the decline in course numbers in the Gaeltacht, which Irish colleges’ umbrella group Concos has described as “dramatic”.

“The numbers continue to plunge year on year. They are down by about 20pc on the peak. It is definitely a reaction to the economic downturn,” said spokeswoman Maria Nic Dhonncha.

However, the director of the European Language College, Donie McCormack — where students take three-week French and Spanish language summer courses — said the downturn had little impact on business.

“Our numbers are on the rise, I think parents will always prioritise education, no matter how tight things are,” said Mr McCormack.

The Horizon Education School offers summer schools in English, French and Spanish. Its owner, Frank Noone, said more than 3,000 students had signed up for summer school so far this year — the largest number to date.”

Ah. So actually the decline in students taking up residential visits in the Gaeltachtaí is directly attributable to the current economic depression in Ireland? Considering its severity one might be impressed that many parents are still prioritising the need for their children to experience life in the Irish-speaking communities and that the “fall” is only 15% over four years (if only the property and commercial sectors could boast of such a “decline”). One might also note that foreign language courses in Ireland have been rising in popularity for the last decade, in part attributable to the numbers of new immigrant communities now resident in the country (a fact acknowledged by the education organisations themselves).

As one of the Commentators below the article remarks:

“It’s called having no money to send them. Hello!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! They didn’t shun it. I couldn’t afford to send my lad, only reason he didn’t go and loads of the other families are in same boat. Bad journalism. Go out and ask the people.”

Bizarrely though the Oirish Indo also gives us this editorial. Perhaps they were so busy spinning the story they didn’t realise that they’d turned a full 360 degrees?

“Generations of Irish children have gone through a sort of rite of passage — usually, and appropriately enough, when on the threshold of adolescence — which has left them with happy, lifelong memories.

They remember the other-worldly environment of the Gaeltacht, the unusual sounds and sights and smells, like bread baking; and the strange experience of hearing all around them people speaking a language that most children have heard only in the classroom.

Now it emerges that the numbers attending Gaeltacht “summer colleges” are falling. Less than 24,000 are expected to travel this year, down from 28,000 four years ago.

At the same time, more and more have registered for courses in European languages.

This points up what might seem a stark choice but is really an irrelevance. There is no conflict between learning Irish and learning French or German. Nor need there be any conflict between the modernisation of Ireland and the preservation of the language, including one of its most charming aspects.

But the Gaeltacht itself is shrinking. Its very existence is in peril. Sceptics question whether the people of the present Gaeltacht areas will still speak Irish in 20 years’ time. Like the loss of childhood, such a loss could never be repaired.”

One solution appears on the Galway News:

“…former MEP Seán Ó Neachtain and Director of Spiddal based Coláiste Chonnacht who says schools throughout the region have seen a significant slow-down in attendance.

He says the average fee in Gaeltacht schools for a three week course is no longer affordable for many families.

Speaking on Galway Talks, Seán Ó Neachtain says a fresh approach to student sponsorship is required.”

Given the crucial importance of the “Gaeltacht experience” in the formative lives of Irish people is it not time that the government provided greater support for those tens of thousands of families who wish to avail of it instead of leaving them to meet the substantial costs alone? After all other nations sponsor very similar initiatives. And perhaps we should look at other ways of invigorating Irish language communities closer to home so that alongside residential visits to the West we also place a greater priority on daily and weekly Irish language camps in urban regions?

Perhaps, at the end of the day, what we need is some radical thinking?

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